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Glossophobia (Fear of Public Speaking) and Some Practical Ways Through It

Updated: Feb 26

Glossophobia, or a fear of public speaking is a common form of anxiety in today’s society. While presenting to an audience can be daunting for anyone at the best of times, those with glossophobia can experience anything from a mild stress response and slight nerves; including a quavering voice, increased heart rate and shaking hands, to more seriously, a paralyzing response of fear and panic. While many of us have probably heard or been told the phrase, “just imagine everyone in the audience naked” to help us get through, here are some more practical steps to help you prepare for a public speaking situation.

1. Know and understand your topic

Whether it's pitching an idea, sharing an opinion or delivering a speech, it is important to know and understand your topic. Fear originates from the unknown or when we feel threatened or unprepared for a situation – so the more knowledge and understanding you have about the topic you are speaking on, the more in control and prepared you will feel. This will also be beneficial if you find yourself getting off track. The more information you know, the easier it will be to link back to your original point or recover your train of thought and continue. Better yet, find a topic you are passionate or care about as this will also help with increasing confidence in your delivery. It is also important to note that people often pay more attention to the content of your speech rather than the delivery – so focus on your material, rather than on your audience.

2. Be organized ahead of time

Organization is key when it comes to public speaking, and it starts first with the content of your speech. If you already know your topic, pre-plan out ahead of time the information you want to discuss and the points you are hoping to get across. Organize your speech so that it has a clear start, middle and end, and if you need it – try putting together some small cue cards with a brief outline of your key points to help you stay on track. Next ensure you have organized any additional equipment you will need, whether this be a PowerPoint, video or any props that you will require throughout your speech. If possible check out your venue ahead of time to certify that your requirements can be met by the facility and test run any audio or visual aids. The more organized you are, the less nervous you may feel.

3. Practice, practice, practice

Ever heard the saying “practice makes perfect”? Practicing your speech, or public speaking in general, will help to lessen the fear associated with the task as you become more familiar and comfortable in the delivery. You may like to start by practicing alone in front of a mirror. While you may feel a little silly, this can be a great place to begin as it gives you a way to directly see how you are presenting yourself throughout your speech, as well as encouraging you to make eye contact and keep your head up. Once slightly more comfortable in your ability, consider practicing your speech in front of a few people who you are familiar with. Ask for feedback and then take some time to practice incorporating this into your speech. Another way you could do this is by videoing your presentation and then watching it back to look for improvement opportunities. Another good tool to use during your practice is visualization. By imagining your speech going successfully you can help to quieten or dispel negative thoughts, reducing your fear and anxiety.

4. Focus on your breathing

Breathing in and out sounds so simple you’re probably wondering why it's even on this list. Yet a couple of deep breaths before, or even during a speech can make a world of difference. When we experience fear and anxiety our body jumps straight into alert mode: our sympathetic nervous system. Putting us in the fight, flight or freeze response mode, our heart rate and breathing rate both increase as our body prepares to launch into action and deal with the oncoming stressor. Taking a moment for a deep breath or two can help to re-centre us when in this state and calm us back down. Keep this in mind throughout your presentation also. If you feel yourself starting to tip over the edge, pause in your speech for a moment to take a breath. Chances are it’ll feel like you’ve been silent for a lifetime, but in reality, and for everyone listening it’s probably only a few seconds. If anything, your audience might take the chance to consider the points you have may or the ideas just shared in your speech.

5. Get support

If public speaking happens to be a regular requirement for you, you may want to look at groups that can offer you further support and practice. Toastmasters International is one such group, working as a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs.

Still feeling like there is room for improvement in helping you get over your fear of public speaking? Take our quick online Glossophobia test to see how severe your phobia is and what we can do to help.

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